By Alan Chivers, chairman, The Renewables Consulting Group
The Global Wind Organisation (GWO) was formed in 2012 by major developers, operators and original equipment manufacturers (OEM) with the intent to deliver uniform training designed specifically for the wind industry. In a short period of time, GWO training has become the gold standard and is typically specified as a minimum requirement for contractors seeking work on a project. Indeed, before the GWO standards, the wind industry was using standards developed for other industries. The GWO has demonstrated what is possible when workers and technicians are trained to industry-specific standards: barriers are reduced, costs are slashed and wind technicians arrive home safely to their families.
A quick word about safety statistics: It is nearly impossible to draw conclusions on the effectiveness of wind industry training from raw numbers alone. Root causes of incidents are not always related to training or competence. There are many other drivers for reducing incidents and improving performance than simply the competence of the workforce. And the wind industry is more conscientious than ever in self reporting. These are all signs that the wind industry continues to move in the right direction.
A new direction
The EU has had a legal framework in place for many years to ensure all member states have common minimum health and safety laws and regulations. The GWO program has been so successful that there is now recognition that the wind industry move beyond standardizing training. Recently, the European Commission comprised a task force called Wind Harmony to study health, safety and environmental (HSE) protocols in broader terms.
The Wind Harmony initiative encompassed three primary areas: mapping existing legal requirements and industry standards for health and safety across 27 EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway; engaging a broad array of industry stakeholders; and developing and implementing methodologies for identifying and prioritizing “interventions” for bringing about greater alignment in health and safety in the European wind sector.
The consortium concluded that while the European wind industry is performing well — and has in place the necessary regulations and structures — several recommendations can be made for building on existing initiatives to further improve performance.
The consortium made 37 recommendations to the European Commission across 19 topic areas. Of these, 15 recommendations across seven topic areas were noted as priority recommendations:
- Electrical, mechanical and other hazardous energies
- Wind turbine safety design standards
- Fitness-to-work and medical examinations
- Emergency planning and response
These suggestions largely call for building on what is already being done to continue the journey toward a safer, simpler industry with common approaches to key health and safety challenges.
The European wind industry, in facing harmonization challenges in health and safety standards, can be proud of this key achievement.
Another case for having a common set of standards in place provides some protection against unforeseen events, such as COVID- 19. Despite the worst global pandemic any of us have seen in our lifetimes, the wind industry has shown amazing resilience.
The response to the pandemic has shown that the wind industry can adapt and change if there is a strong enough driver and a common understanding amongst a mobile workforce.
No one can argue that the curve ball COVID threw at us clearly demonstrated how well the European offshore wind community reacted, innovated and overcame the immediate difficulties. Projects were interrupted, people worked tirelessly to find socially acceptable working solutions, and while the long term remains unpredictable until a vaccine is effectively administered, turbines keep turning, new projects are getting built and power is still getting to the right place at the right time – a difficult problem faced and solved, by the industry, by working together with a common objective.
Since the wind industry has control over its training, it can be responsive to events like the pandemic. During the pandemic, the GWO temporarily extended the validity of certificates, and training were moved online.
The global pandemic has proven that, despite challenges, the wind industry can persevere. In facing harmonization challenges in health and safety standards, the European wind industry can be proud of its accomplishments.
A move beyond European borders may prove to be the most difficult challenge yet. Each country – even regions within the same country – have their own unique set of dynamics, market conditions and, well, idiosyncrasies.
The global industry must take care in not overstepping its boundaries and forcing regulations that may backfire. A balance must be struck. And while harmonization is the goal, each country operates under its own ecosystem. Any attempt to modify safety protocols must be done without disrupting that ecosystem. Even under the most well-meaning of intentions, it is possible to alienate or miscalculate when entering a new region or country. In the United States, for example, there is no shortage of stakeholders when it comes to safety standards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, trade associations and labor unions will all need to take an active role in developing offshore wind standards.
It is understandable that the United States may not want to import everything from Europe without modification. Nonetheless, the United States would be wise to study from the work already done in Europe to get ahead of where it would be otherwise.
After all, we all share a common goal: to continue the journey toward a safer, simpler industry with common approaches to our key health and safety challenges.
Alan Chivers is chairman for The Renewables Consulting Group, a London-based sector specialist advisory firm.